Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What Color Is Your God?

Fall is my favorite time of year. The weather is not too hot and not too cold but like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, everything is "just right." The best part of living in this part of the country during the fall season is the changing of the leaves. During the summer the trees are the same green and we seldom pay much attention to them. However come the fall our eyes seem naturally drawn to the vivid display of nature as we move into the next season. We don't tend to react in a negative way to the turning of the leaves. I've yet to hear some one say, "Why are those leaves turning colors? How horrible!" We tend to just sit back and watch nature do her thing while we become the beneficiaries of the beautiful display of color. It is quite evident that God created and enjoys diversity in nature. Whether it is trees, flowers, or animals, diversity says something about our Creator. While we can appreciate color differences in nature, why do we not feel the same way in the church? I recently reconnected with a friend /colleague who is in a transition time in her life, a "seasonal" change. This colleague has been a staunch defender of racial issues and racial reconciliation in the church. She came to this point after she allowed the Holy Spirit to convict her and show her how much privilege she enjoyed as a white woman in this country. There is a sad irony to the fact that we have to talk about racial reconciliation and the church in the same sentence. However, the "elephant in the room" is a reality. Racism exists inside the church. How many have heard a sermon preached on this topic? I took an elective course at Gordon-Conwell Seminary on racism and the church and it was an eye-opening experience. The course was team taught by a black minister and a white minister/Gordon-Conwell professor. The tension in the classroom could easily be felt as we waded through various issues. Finally, the discomfort was broken as we were encouraged to go around the room and truly share our hearts. That was indeed a transforming Holy Spirit moment! Tears flowed freely, the tension disappeared, and love and forgiveness filled the room. Recently, one of my clients had visited a black church. When I asked him about his experience he stated he most likely would not go back there because he was"the only white person" in the room. I confronted him about his remark and pointed out that I am in most situations the only black person at a function or in a church. How can Jesus' high priestly prayer in John 17 that we all be one ever be fulfilled when such attitudes exists? Jesus was not calling for uniformity but unity, as it was in the beginning with the creation of man and woman. As man and woman reflect a unity in diversity so should the church. This was God's original intent in creation, to reflect the unity in diversity that exists in the Trinity. Lest we forget that John also had a word of admonition for believers, "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness, he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him." (1 John 2:9-11) Hatred and love as expressed in the Scriptures are not primarily focused on emotions but rather attitudes expressed in actions. John adds, "If anyone says "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother." (1 John 4:20) Yes, the issues are complicated and run deep in the history of our nation but the heart of the matter is sin. The question is will we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and draw us away from our fears and prejudices? It is the same Holy Spirit that took the heart of a murderous Pharisee named Saul and changed him, giving him a new name, Paul, and sending him to a people different from himself, the Gentiles. (Acts chapter 9) It was the compassion of Jesus who spoke to a woman at a well who was despised and rejected because she was different. (John chapter 4) If we are His followers, by God's grace we need to ask the Spirit to search our hearts and help us face some of the attitudes we may hold. There is an expression, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,"and  spiritually speaking this is true because the One who beholds beauty is the one who created it. Let us come to appreciate "color" in every facet of God's creation. 
Shalom,
Pastor Sheree

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Things With Wings

I have had a number of encounters recently with various winged creatures. Aside from my usual dragonfly sightings, I have had the privilege of getting up close and personal with various butterflies. Upon arriving at work one day a beautiful Monarch butterfly nearly landed on my shoulder. On another morning as I was getting in my car to go to work, a hawk sailed right over my head almost close enough to touch. I was thinking to myself, "What is going on?" While it is tempting to focus on flight, I was drawn to a different aspect of wings in the Scriptures. Many of us are already familiar with Isaiah 40:31, which highlights soaring like an eagle but what about other passages? In the book of Ruth, Boaz compliments Ruth about how she has stuck by her mother-in-law, Naomi's side. Boaz says to Ruth, "May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge." (Ruth 2:12) In the next chapter, Ruth meets Boaz at the threshing floor. She makes a request of him, "I am your servant Ruth, " she said. "Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer." (Ruth 3:9) What is interesting to note is that Ruth's request is a play on the word "wings" from Ruth 2:12. She is literally requesting that Boaz spread the "wings of his garment" over her. In both verses the idea is one of protection. Ruth's words remind Boaz that he must serve as the Lord's "protective wing" to watch over Ruth. Likewise God serves as our Protector much like a bird protecting her young under her wings.  Wings as related to God serves as a metaphor for the protective outreach of God's power. The same portrait is seen in the Psalms. "Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings." (Psalm 17:8) "He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart." (Psalm 91:4) In the New Testament, Jesus laments over the city of Jerusalem, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who sent you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Matthew 23:37) The symbolism is powerful! Not only do the wings provide a covering of protection but also a place of warmth and comfort. Those under protection do not have to be subjected to the assaults from the outside world because there is one stronger that has everything under control and would even sacrifice their life for the ones receiving protection. The tender, compassionate image of a hen protecting its young is at the same time a reflection of power. This is our God, the One who is all powerful yet at the same time loving. And of course we see these two aspects beautifully coming together in Jesus Christ. So the next time you encounter something with wings think beyond flight and allow the Lord to "spread the corner of His garment over you" for He is our Redeemer and Savior.
In His Name,
Pastor Sheree